Directed by the company’s legendary chairman, the late Eiji Toyoda, who did not impose a deadline or a budget limit, F1 was Toyota’s most ambitious endeavor. It employed 60 designers, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, and 200 supporting staff members, all led by chief engineer Ichiro Suzuki.
If the extraordinarily large number of people that worked on this project isn’t impressive enough, the result of their intensive labor will undoubtedly blow your mind. According to the manufacturer, the team created 450 individual vehicle prototypes and close to 900 experimental engines.
To achieve that, engineers put the unit through one of the most rigorous tests conceivable. Before entering production, it clocked over 1.67 million miles (2.7 million km) of real-world test drives through some of the harshest conditions in the world. Prototype vehicles equipped with this V8 were driven across the icy roads of Northern Europe or sandy paths of Saudi Arabia.
In 1989, six years and approximately $1 billion later, the secret was out when Toyota unveiled the LS 400, as well as the Lexus marque which aimed to snuff out the newly established Acura and Infinity brands in the North American market.
Oversquare by design, with a bore and stroke of 87.5 mm × 82.5 mm (3.44 in × 3.25 in), the all-aluminum unit displaced 4.0 liters (242 ci). Like other legendary Toyota engines, the block was thoroughly reinforced to ensure unparalleled reliability. Inside it, engineers placed a sturdy forged steel crankshaft with eight counterweights, two more than what most production V8s usually employ. Equally impressive were the six cross-bolted main bearing caps, another feature rarely seen in a block that’s not intended for racing.
It turns out that this configuration was actually based on a race-spec unit intended for CART (today’s IndyCar), a detail confirmed by David Currier - then-vice president of TRD USA - in a 2007 interview.
Unlike the motorsport-derived block, the cylinder heads were designed with fuel economy in mind, so they weren’t as impressive for high-performance enthusiasts. Each featured two conventionally-profiled cams per head and to attain a compact packaging, only the intake cams are driven by the timing chain, while the exhaust cams were set in motion by a gearing mechanism that connected them to their intake counterparts.
In its original form, the engine had a 10.0:1 compression ratio that enabled an output of 256 hp and 260 lb-ft (353 Nm) of torque. It was revised for the 1995 model year, receiving a host of upgrades which included lighter rods and pistons, sequential fuel injection, new cams with a slightly more aggressive profile, or an improved exhaust manifold. The compression ratio increased to 10.4:1, resulting in an increase of power to 261 hp and 269 lb-ft (365 Nm) of torque. A second revision came in 1997 when among the new goodies Toyota added its trademark VVT-i (variable valve timing) technology. In this final form, the V8 could make up to 300 hp and 310 lb-ft (420 Nm) of torque.
In terms of reliability, this engine is legendary. The LS400 made the Consumer Reports list of recommended vehicles that can last for over 200.000 miles (321,869 km) with regular maintenance back in 2007. Nowadays, many owners who took adequate care of these cars have actually recorded three times as many miles, sending odometers into a frenzy.
The 1UZ-FE was produced until 2002, and ended up powering three generations of the Japanese market Toyota Crown Majesta, the successor of the LS 400 (called Toyota Celsior in Japan). It was also used in the Lexus SC 400 and the first two generations of the GS 400.
Another version called VT300i did make it into production outside the automotive sector in the late 1990s, finding its way into the Toyota Epic powerboat range which, contrary to its name, was by no means an epic series of boats.
Thanks to its bombproof bottom end, the V8 eventually made it into a racing car, the Toyota MR2 SW20-derived SARD MC8-R. With twin-turbos and capable of 600 hp, this version developed by Toyota’s SARD (Sigma Advanced Research Development) works team competed in the GT1 class but never managed to achieve any noteworthy results.
Despite its failure in motorsport, the 1UZ-FE remains an impressive, over-engineered masterpiece. The product of an outlandish project, it goes down in history as one of the smoothest, most reliable eight-cylinders of all time.
If you would like to learn more about this legendary engine, I recommend watching the video below, posted on YouTube by driving 4 answers. It helped make this article possible and superbly covers every minute detail about the 1UZ-FE, including its tuning potential.